FLY& DINE

Food writ­ers claim these ‘bucket list’ restau­rants are worth trav­el­ling across the world to see

Regina Leader-Post - - TRAVEL - KATE KRADER and RICHARD VINES

If there’s a clichéd concept for food travel, it’s the bucket restau­rant list. The idea, pop­u­larly thought to have come from the 2007 film The Bucket List, might be only about 10 years old, but it feels as if it’s been kick­ing around much longer and is overused enough to have in­spired lis­ti­cles as ran­dom and use­less as a roundup of the best fried chicken in Or­ange County, Calif.

That said, it’s a sat­is­fy­ing ex­er­cise to make a list and then check things off it. And des­ti­na­tion restau­rants make for a grat­i­fy­ing list. What fol­lows is a list Bloomberg’s two restau­rant writ­ers com­piled that rep­re­sent places we’ve trav­elled to that were so good we want to shout about them, along with spots that are on our own bucket lists.

In­cluded are a sub­lime restau­rant in the hills of Provence and a no-frills din­ing room in Viet­nam that cooks only one thing: cat­fish. Be­cause yes, as clichéd as restau­rant bucket lists are, we keep them, too.

MAAEMO Oslo, Nor­way

An un­ex­pected din­ing des­ti­na­tion, Maaemo is in a mod­ern of­fice block near Oslo’s main sta­tion. The views are of rail­way tracks, and the sound­track is of pass­ing trains. Yet Maaemo is worth a trip to Nor­way, a coun­try of great nat­u­ral beauty. It holds three Miche­lin stars, the only Nor­we­gian restau­rant to re­ceive that ac­co­lade. The cui­sine might loosely be called new Nordic in the sense that it uses lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and em­ploys cook­ing tech­niques, such as pick­ling, that are nec­es­sary in such a cold cli­mate. But chef Es­ben Holm­boe Bang has his own voice, in­de­pen­dent of culi­nary fash­ion. There are just eight ta­bles in the main din­ing room, so good luck get­ting one. If you do, you might ex­pe­ri­ence lightly frozen fresh cheese with smoked wild sal­mon eggs and lan­goustines served with dry ice to cre­ate a mist that smells of Nor­we­gian pine.

STEIRERECK Vienna

Steirereck is fre­quently de­scribed as the Noma of Aus­tria, a time-tested restau­rant with a mod­ern menu in a city not known for gas­tron­omy. In fact, Steirereck is com­pletely sin­gu­lar. The old build­ing was es­sen­tially re­built with walls of glass to look out on the sur­round­ing Stadt­park (City Park); the view feels as thrilling as chef Heinz Reit­bauer’s in­ven­tive cui­sine, with such plates as co­conut-wa­ter-poached cray­fish with cel­ery root salad, and bar­be­cued beef forerib with potato cream, blue poppy seeds, and alpine sor­rel. The honey course — a tast­ing of ex­em­plary jars — is ac­com­pa­nied by the buzz of a bee colony. The mood here is com­pletely re­laxed, which is good be­cause meals tend to stretch over sev­eral hours. There’s a more ca­sual op­tion: The wine-fo­cused Milch­bar is hid­den be­low Steirereck.

ELKANO Ge­taria, Spain

Set in a mi­nus­cule beach town be­tween Bil­bao and San Se­bas­tian where ev­ery restau­rant seems to be a des­ti­na­tion, Elkano is leg­endary for fish. It’s a very sim­ple recipe. Chef/owner Ai­tor Ar­regui gets all his seafood lo­cally and then cooks it over a bat­tery of grills fu­elled by char­coal made from oak. The spe­cialty is tur­bot, bar­be­cued in a grill bas­ket with a few squirts of a se­cret mix of oil, vine­gar, and salt created by Ar­regui’s grand­mother. Ar­regui main­tains that part of the se­cret is to have the tur­bot skin blis­ter enough for the flames to flavour the meat it­self. Be­fore he serves the meaty, lightly smoky fish, Ar­regui picks out the bones and adds an­other gen­er­ous driz­zle of the fam­ily’s se­cret oil.

MIRAZUR Men­ton, France

This charm­ing des­ti­na­tion at the foot of moun­tains over­look­ing the Mediter­ranean is just a cou­ple of hun­dred yards from the bor­der with Italy. It’s eas­ily reached by train from Nice, yet it feels ex­otic, al­most iso­lated. The din­ing room, housed in a 1930s ro­tunda, of­fers spec­tac­u­lar views. Ar­gen­tine-born chef Mauro Co­la­greco uses lo­cal pro­duce to cre­ate sea­sonal dishes in­spired by the sea, the moun­tains and the gar­den. It’s worth splurg­ing on the tast­ing menu, which fea­tures sig­na­ture dishes such as blue lob­ster, French coco beans and camomile broth.

SINGLETHREAD FARMS Healds­burg, Calif.

A restau­rant to make you be­lieve in the tired phrase “farm to ta­ble.” In the sleepy town of Healds­burg, on the edge of fancy wine coun­try, chef Kyle Con­naughton uses in­gre­di­ents from the five-acre (two-hectare) farm tended by his wife, Ka­t­rina. Canapés such as caviar-cov­ered lo­cal oys­ters dec­o­rated with tiny flow­ers are ar­rayed on a mossy branch. Con­naughton, who cooked in Tokyo for years, em­pha­sizes Ja­panese in­flu­ences with Cal­i­for­nia in­gre­di­ents for such dishes as cured foie gras flavoured with co­coa and rooibos tea. The restau­rant is in a ter­rif­i­cally ap­pointed five-room inn with ameni­ties that in­clude luxe Ja­panese tow­els and deep bath­tubs. With the room comes break­fast, and the chef is ex­pert at pre­par­ing Ja­panese don­abe smoked trout, house-cured ba­con and frit­tatas made from fresh eggs.

BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS Hud­son Val­ley, N.Y.

Many bucket list restau­rants fall into ei­ther the im­pos­si­ble-to­get-to or im­pos­si­ble-to-get-into cat­e­gory. Stone Barns is nei­ther. A 45-minute drive from Man­hat­tan, the restau­rant is set in an old stone build­ing on a former Rock­e­feller Es­tate. The mag­nif­i­cence of Blue Hill has ev­ery­thing to do with chef Dan Bar­ber’s ex­plo­rations of the 80 acres (32 hectares) of land sur­round­ing him. Guests are given small note­books in­stead of menus, and pris­tine baby radishes, turnips, and other tiny vegeta­bles are pinned ver­ti­cally on a wooden slab for snacks. Later in the meal, you might have the best eggs of your life, warmed in the heat gen­er­ated from a com­post pile.

THE LOST KITCHEN Free­dom, Maine

In an im­pos­si­bly scenic set­ting — a con­verted New Eng­land grist mill ac­cessed via a bridge over a wa­ter­fall — chef Erin French has created an in­cred­i­bly per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence in the tiny coastal Maine town called Free­dom. The place is open only four days a week, eight months a year, for 40 guests a night. Thou­sands of peo­ple com­pete for those seats in a sim­ple din­ing room with wooden plank floors and ta­bles unburdened by cloths. Here’s why: French serves ex­quis­ite, sim­ple dishes us­ing lo­cal in­gre­di­ents such as clams for her New Eng­land chow­der with home­made saltines and Maine bluefin tuna with the tini­est turnips. To add to the charm, wine is avail­able at a shop down­stairs; guests bring it up in wicker bas­kets.

It’s like the ul­ti­mate din­ner party to which you’re ex­tremely lucky to get an in­vite.

It’s a sat­is­fy­ing ex­er­cise to make a list and then check things off it. And des­ti­na­tion restau­rants make for a grat­i­fy­ing list.

RAYMONDS RESTAU­RANT St. John’s, N.L.

A throw­back din­ing room on a re­mote coast in a small city sounds as if it would be the new­est Nordic spot to cap­ture food lovers’ at­ten­tion. In­stead, this is a restau­rant in the cap­i­tal. Un­der the stew­ard­ship of chef Jeremy Charles, Raymonds makes the lo­cal seafood and game wildly com­pelling. An avid fish­er­man and hunter, Charles serves house-made moose finoc­chio (salami), thick, sweet lo­cal sea scal­lops with a gar­nish of smoked roe, and woodsy wild par­tridge with tart el­der­berry sauce. Even the wine list, fo­cus­ing on top pro­duc­ers na­tion­wide, makes you want to cel­e­brate Canada.

SUSHI SAITO Tokyo

The com­mo­tion about Jiro is still so deaf­en­ing, it’s hard to re­mem­ber there are other elite, tiny sushi spots in Tokyo. Joel Robu­chon, the French chef who has com­piled 31 Miche­lin stars, has called Saito the best sushi restau­rant in the world, and the eight-seat counter in Rop­pongi has 3 Miche­lin stars of its own. Takashi Saito sources such seafood as aji (which he serves with gin­ger), tu­nas from lean to fatty (akami, chu-toro and o-toro), volup­tuous uni and sweet and salty anago, and the clas­sic tomago to fin­ish. It’s not that any of it is out of the or­di­nary. It’s the ex­tra­or­di­nary qual­ity and the quiet lit­tle tweaks in ag­ing some pieces, as well as fi­ness­ing the rice, that el­e­vates this spot to a new plane.

CHA CA LA VONG Hanoi

There’s no ques­tion about what you’ll eat at this non­de­script up­stairs restau­rant. It will be siz­zling cat­fish, vi­brant with herbs, spices, and chilies. The dish’s name is that of the restau­rant that’s so pop­u­lar it’s also the name of the street, to which such no­table chefs such as James Beard award-win­ning Chris Shep­herd from Hous­ton, Texas, have come to sam­ple it. It’s a very DIY ex­pe­ri­ence: A burner with a worn skil­let is set up at your place at a communal ta­ble for turmeric-mar­i­nated fish, siz­zling in gar­lic oil with co­pi­ous amounts of dill and shrimp paste. The diner adds the ac­cou­trements that come to the ta­ble, in­clud­ing bowls of herbs, mar­i­nated hot chilies, peanuts and un­adorned rice noo­dles.

HELGA’S FOLLY Kandy, Sri Lanka

You prob­a­bly wouldn’t go here for the food alone, al­though it’s a re­li­able mix of such Sri Lankan dishes as spicy co­conut soup, fish cakes and hop­pers (rice flour pan­cakes) with curry. But the pil­grim­age to this gothic ho­tel on a hill­side in dense jun­gle makes the trip worth­while. Just a taxi ride from the his­toric city of Kandy, it’s a mil­lion miles from con­ven­tion. The warm air is thick with ex­otic scents and the sound of in­sects. A wall is all that sep­a­rates you from leop­ards and other wild an­i­mals. The rooms are filled with mys­te­ri­ous paint­ings, and wax from can­dles drips to the floor in sta­lac­tite for­ma­tions. Over it all pre­sides enig­matic owner Helga de Silva Blow Per­era.

GUSTU

La Paz, Bo­livia

While Peru’s food is much in vogue, neigh­bour­ing Bo­livia has yet to rise to the level of din­ing des­ti­na­tion. But Gustu is worth con­sid­er­ing, both for the qual­ity of the cook­ing and for the im­por­tance of its mis­sion of ed­u­cat­ing dis­ad­van­taged young peo­ple and sup­port­ing farm­ers. The in­gre­di­ents are sourced from farms across Bo­livia, and a school is at­tached to the restau­rant. The dishes may be un­fa­mil­iar: You might find your­self eat­ing raw llama with ca­pers from Tar­ija, washed down with Bo­li­vian wine. Gustu was opened in 2013 by Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma, who in­stalled Dan­ish chef Kamilla Sei­dler to run the kitchen. While it is a so­cial ex­per­i­ment, it’s also a place with very in­ter­est­ing food.

THE LOST KITCHEN

Thou­sands of peo­ple com­pete to eat at the charm­ing The Lost Kitchen in Free­dom, Maine. It is only open four days a week, eight months a year for 40 guests per night.

STEIRERECK

Steirereck, in Vienna, was built with glass walls so pa­trons can take in the views while din­ing on a meal that will likely take hours.

RAYMONDS RESTAU­RANT

Feast on lo­cal del­i­ca­cies in Raymonds Restau­rant in St. John’s. It’s well worth the trip.

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